3 Steps to More Persuasive Writing
Anytime you write, you're trying to persuade your readers to do or feel what you want them to. To be persuasive, you have to believe in what you're saying. And you have to believe in your ability to communicate it.
Consider: When you're talking with people face to face you can tell right away if they are nervous or uncomfortable. Their eyes won't meet yours, they talk too little or too much, their voices might be shaky, etc. And their discomfort makes you trust them less.
Readers can spot a writer's lack of confidence a mile away. If they sense you are uncomfortable with what you're saying, they won't feel comfortable giving you their money.
To be persuasive, you have to write with conviction and credibility. When you write confidently, your passion shows through and becomes contagious. Here are three ways to boost your professional confidence, by honing your writing skills.
1. Know what you're talking about. When I was starting out, I used to spend long hours at the public library researching public records, census reports, poring over various encyclopedias, and so on, to gather background on whatever I was writing about. It was slow, tedious business, with a lot of false leads and restarts. (Hard to believe now people used to be able to bill for that time!)
Now you can find out a lot about everything in just a few Google searches. What used to take hours, even days, take minutes. So really, there's no excuse for not doing your research. The only thing you have to learn is to separate the wheat from the chaff.
2. Find your voice or rather the voice of the person signing the letter. There aren't a lot of shortcuts for this, but it is time well spent. Start by writing a draft that captures what you want to say. Tell a story, describe the need, make an ask, show your readers why your mission depends on them and ask again.
Then, rewrite to massage the stiffness out of your copy. Yank out words with more than three syllables and replace them with shorter words. Whittle some sentences down to fragments. Minimize adjectives. Use contractions. End sentences with prepositions. Ruthlessly split a few infinitives.
Then rewrite again, and this time, write with your ears. Read your copy aloud to see if it sounds like the letter signer is talking to a donor or prospect. If you know your signer, that's a plus. If not, you can still listen for whether the letter captures his or her persona, or at least sounds like someone in the signer's position. A military general is going to sound different than a human services director, so make sure the words fit the readers' preconceptions.
3. Overcome the fear of asking. A lot of people feel uncomfortable asking a stranger for money. They worry the reader will get mad. Or maybe they don't like asking because they don't want to feel like money-grubbing salespeople.
The solution is to trust the other members of your fundraising team. Loath as we writers may be to admit it, mailing strategy, lists and segmentation affect results more than our brilliant wordsmithery.
By the time your letter reaches its readers, they will have been pretty well vetted, and even prospects are likely to be sympathetic to your message. So asking won't be an imposition. It will be a welcome opportunity to help a cause they care about.
A woman I once knew used to say, "It's a poor dog that can't wag its own tail." If you're a fundraising copywriter, you already have most of the tools you need to go from good to great. The rest are available to you. All it takes to get them, and the persuasive power that goes with them, is a lot of hard work.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.